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Mon, Oct. 14

Childcare licensing fees unfair to smaller operations, locals complain

The Arizona Department of Economic Security has adjusted proposed fee increases for childcare center licenses, in response to protests from the centers.

But the response to the final fees hasn't all been positive, either.

The agency released the new and final three-year license fee increases Monday, and they take effect Jan. 1. The agency says it is trying to cover more of its costs with its fees. It has faced deep budget cuts, with more to come during a special legislative session this week.

The agency also increased licensing fees for behavioral health centers, medical centers and long-term care and assisted living operations. The new fees are online at www.azdhs.gov.

Current three-year license fees are only $30 for small childcare operations in homes, and $150 for all child care operations.

On Jan. 1, the agency will institute four levels of fees based on centers' child capacity, with a maximum three-year fee of $7,800 for operations with a licensed capacity of 60 children or more.

At least one local childcare operator wrote to The Daily Courier to protest the fact that the final adjustments especially favor the largest childcare centers. The agency dropped the two top fee tiers it originally proposed this past month, for operations with 100-149 children and those with 150 and more.

"The new fees are even more unfair than the previous ones," said Jerry Dorsheimer, who plans to open the Learning Castle Children's Center preschool in Prescott Valley in January. It will have the capacity to serve 53 children. His fee will be $4,000. He asked the state to consider a flat $15 per child.

Dianne Dugan, director of the Cornerstone Christian Preschool and Daycare in Prescott, said the new structure favoring larger centers also bothers her. With a licensed capacity for 61 children, her fee will be the maximum $7,800. She might even drop her maximum child capacity by five to drop into the $4,000 fee level for centers with 11-59 children. Those with fewer will pay $1,000.

If not for a special "Empower Center" program, costs between the proposed and final childcare center fees actually would about double for those serving fewer than 100 children. Operations with 100-140 children would see about the same fee increase, while those serving more than 150 would get a maximum final $7,800 fee versus the proposed $13,442.

But centers that follow the 10 "Empower Pack" rules will get their fees cut in half. Federal money and cigarette tax money from the voter-approved First Things First will help cover the gap.

Gov. Jan Brewer praised Health Services Interim Director Will Humble for "identify(ing) creative solutions to replace subsidies that the state can no longer afford to provide."

Those Empower Pack rules include 60 minutes of structured physical activity per day, a limit of one hour of "screen" time per day (computers and TV), low-fat milk and tobacco prevention programs.

"We do most of that already," Dugan said.

With the 50-percent discount, her fee will increase from $150 to $3,900.

"I still wish it was lower, but I'll take that over what was proposed," she said.

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